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Sona Jobarteh’s forward-looking vision of the kora

“Being modern is often associated with becoming western,” says kora virtuoso and vocalist Sona Jobarteh. “What I’m trying to bring to attention is that there is such a thing as being modern and African at the same time. You don’t have to abandon your own culture and traditions to have a voice.”

Jobarteh, 40, has spent the past 15 years establishing her own distinctly modern take on Gambian musical traditions. She is descended from a family of West African griots — musical storytellers employed to counsel kings and pass on oral histories — whose lineage can be traced back to the 12th century. 

Jobarteh’s ancestors passed down musical knowledge from father to son and focused their talents on the kora, a 21-stringed harp-like instrument made from a calabash gourd. With the release of her debut album Fasiya in 2011, Jobarteh announced herself as the first female practitioner of this centuries-old tradition.   

Read the profile in Hyphen Magazine.

[This piece was published on 09/05/24]

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